Pictou County town says it doesn't want school building

Adam MacInnis
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Highland Consolidated


Highland Consolidated Middle School is the building no one wants, or can afford.

The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board voted to close the school in March, but not without a backlash from the town of Westville.

“I would like to see the school board revisit this issue. (More than) $2 million of taxpayers’ money is at stake,” Westville Mayor Roger MacKay said in an interview Tuesday, referring to the difference in price tags to renovate Highland over Dr. W.A. MacLeod – $1.5 million compared to $3.7 million for Dr. W. A. MacLeod.

The keys to the building were handed to the town on March 22, despite the town saying it doesn’t want the building in the shape that it’s in.

Kelly Rice, chief administrative officer for the town, called the building "deplorable" at a council meeting Monday night after doing a walk-through last week.

Debbie Buott-Matheson, communications manager for the school board, argues that Highland Consolidated was maintained while it was under their management.

“There are no repairs that are required at this point,” she said.

She noted that there have been cases of vandalism after it became vacant, and said the CCRSB did their best to rectify any issues, including a window replacement recently.

During the process, the board kept power and heat on, she said.

Buildings owned by municipalities and used for school purposes are under the management of the school board, requiring them to provide maintenance and repairs, according to section 92 of the Education Act.

Buott-Matheson said the building was the property of the town. Once a building is deemed unusable for their purposes, it reverts back to the town, she said.

The town plans to have the building inspected by an engineer next week, an added expense for them, MacKay said.

“It’s certainly something that Westville can’t afford. It’s a big undertaking. That’s a fairly large building,“ MacKay said, adding that heating and maintaining the building are not within their budget.

Although Buott-Matheson said the school board never wishes to unduly burden a town, there’s not much they can do. They also can’t afford to hold onto buildings they can’t use, she said.

“It ends up becoming a sticky situation that nobody wants to find themselves in.”

MacKay and council have contacted the provincial government in the hopes that they’ll intervene.

The building has been vacant since April 2012, a year after students and teachers began to complain of odours and symptoms believed to have been caused by the building.

An investigation began in January 2012, ending with a final report to the board in November, identifying a few potential factors with no conclusive findings.

A school review process began following a February 2013 meeting, including an impact assessment report that addressed the perception of the building as a ‘sick’ school.

“Students were removed from the site as a precautionary measure as the building was becoming known anecdotally as having indoor air quality (IAQ) issues or as a ‘sick building’. Once a building receives that reputation, warranted or not, it is difficult to change,” it reads.

It notes that consultant reports say air quality levels are acceptable, and can be considered safe. However, the impact assessment report goes on to say what’s safe for adults may not be safe for children. 

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